February 23, 2010

#1 climate change signal: earth getting warmer

In a warmer world, agriculture, industry, and other human water uses will compete for the same water that plants and animals need to survive. Optimizing water use is key to the future.

Take rice, a staple of the human diet. As farmland is lost to urbanization and industrialization and the demand for food increases as human population continues to increase, promoters of the system of rice intensification (SRI), advise farmers to plant early (longer growing season), use less water (no flooding necessary, less cost, and less methane emissions), and plant fewer rice plants (cutting seed costs). Trial results are confirming it: plant less rice and you will have bigger plants that, under less competitive stress, will produce more. In Afghanistan rice yields almost doubled, in southern Iraq, they increased by 75%. In Mali,yields were 87% higher compared to the surrounding rice fields. A global field trial with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Cornell and Wageningen started in 2009 will scientifically settle the matter. In the mean time a million farmers are now using this method with success. According to Dr Norman Uphoff from Cornell, this could also be applicable to wheat, sugar cane and finger millet in India.

As American consumers we need to re-evaluate the real (water) costs associated with the food we eat and the food we grow in our country: airplane-seeded rice paddies in high evaporative areas such as California or water-hungry dense crops such as corn as summer droughts become more frequent. The lesson for managers eager to develop adequate climate change adaptation strategies: reduce the overuse of limited resources.

About the author:
Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
Senior Climate Change Scientist, Team Lead- Global Change
Dominique is a Senior Climate Change Scientist at CBI. She works extensively with a variety of climate scenarios to explore climate change impacts.
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